For a little while now, Sachi and I have been peripherally involved in a new organization. We are excited today that it makes it debut and we can share it with you. Certainly if any readers are, or know of, Wisconsin businesses, we would appreciate it if you checked it out or shared the news.
WE HONOR TRADITION.
Wisconsin’s proud traditions of education, cooperation, and smart government have led to an exceptional quality of life and a strong business environment.
These traditions, combined with our strong work ethic, have positioned our rural and urban businesses, large and small, to grow our economy.
WE BUILD COMMUNITY.
We recognize that our economy, now and into the future, depends on a healthy, well-educated workforce; thriving fields, forests and waterways; and the infrastructure that unites them.Real economic freedom stems from policies that ensure a high standard of living for everyone.
Government has a valid and vital role in creating and maintaining the infrastructure that supports a resilient economy, including roads and rail lines, internet access, cultural assets, and public utilities such as power and water.
WE DRIVE INNOVATION.
Innovation powers our modern economy. It results from mutual respect between employers and employees, and between government and private enterprise.
The public and private sectors contribute to a vibrant, innovative, and modern economy.
And that's it in a nutshell. If you wanted, you could stop reading right now and just go straight to the website.
Being me, I can't stop typing just yet. (And yes, I know I'm due for a regular blog post, that is coming too, just as soon as I clear a path in the office).
I know that I have talked about this in the past, but it bears mentioning in the context of this organization. One of my big disappointments in opening this business is the disconnect between how we as a nation talk about small businesses and how we as a nation treat small businesses. Again, this is not about our customers. Our customers totally understand the differences between big and small businesses, they make an effort to support us, because they know that we will do the same to them. However, I continually hear statistics about how small businesses are so valuable, how they are the backbone of the economy, how they create so many jobs, blah blah blah.I see very little in the way of organized media or political effort to back this up. The tax breaks, the specialized zoning or other bending over backwards - all that doesn't kick in until a business is able to say, "I'll be bringing X million of dollars to your local economy." Never mind that if you add up the dollars of small businesses they would be X to the factor of X in value.
In fact, most of the small business supporting actions I see happen on a very grassroots level. They are about individual consumers and communities realizing how valuable their independent business are and getting together for something like Plaid Friday or 3/50 our own Dane Buy Local (the exception is American Express' "Small Business Saturday" which I believe is big business co-opting the small business movement, and trying to get small businesses to accept AmEx cards - which, by the way, carry rates almost double those of Visa/MC or Discover. If AmEx really wanted to support small business, they would lower their rates). But I digress. Surprise surprise.
Now, I will admit that my background is not in small business. Both of our parents worked for the University of Wisconsin. Their jobs had some element of security that comes from a state position and we bought into the romanticized notion of the pioneer businessperson, out their on their own, taking great risks, but pursuing their American Dream. I also bought into the messaging - that which the media puts out, which is often funneled through such groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. Organizations such as these wield tremendous power on the state and national level and when I was not in the small business world, I was inclined to believe whatever message was being put forth by such organizations. I am still inclined to believe that politicians believe those messages, and are being trained to do so by the lobbyists that such organizations employ. (Do you know the Chamber spent $55 million lobbying in the first HALF of 2012?).
Now that I am in business myself, when I hear the media make generalized statements about the views of small businesses, half the time I think to myself, "that isn't true at all for me. Where are they getting this information!?" The reality is that small businesspeople, just like anyone else, have a range of ideas and beliefs. What is good for one business may be completely horrible for another. The messaging, however, feels like it has been captured. By whom? Captured by the people who have the time, the money, the power. Neither of these three things are something that a small business owner has in excess. No, instead, the message really seems to have been taken over by the aforementioned organizations, whose message, overwhelmingly, is in support of one particular kind of business, on the larger and more corporate scale.
Before I was in business myself, I would have believed when someone said "this will hurt small business," because, after all, what did I know? I'm less likely to believe the message nowadays. And who is behind those organizations promoting such messages? Golly, let's see. There is this article I just came across: Voice of Small Business is a Front. And this one: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Doesn't Speak for Me. On the whole, I doubt more and more that there is a body of genuinely small businesses behind such organizations, despite their claims.
So, I've come to the conclusion that such organizations are not only representing a single type of business, they are representing a way of doing business and living, a way which, quite frankly, doesn't seem to be the way forward for our nation. They represent a particular view of capitalism which is flawed: this pervasive idea that we have a free market (are you kidding me? would they give up their subsidies and tax breaks that give them an advantage over me? I doubt it) and this pervasive idea that they built it themselves (no matter how much time and effort I put into this business, I am NOTHING without my customers. Yet for many corporations, who are bound by shareholders and CEOs, it seems the value of their customer - and by extension, their customer's earning potential - takes a back seat). I would lump them together with the political and the other actions which seem to idealize a particular (and past) way which no longer works in a modern, global, diverse society that we have today. They definitely do not speak for me as a small business person, but they also do not speak to the kind of world that I want for myself as a woman, as a scientist, as a member of a community, as a believer in liberty and justice for all.
So, there you go, that's the way things stand as of yesterday. But today, we have a new player on the scene. Welcome, Wisconsin Business Alliance! To my mind, this organization speaks to my concerns that those other organizations brush off (or work completely against). These are my concerns about how the value of small business that everyone talks about can be translated into an actual, systemic valuing of small business. By and large, I feel like the problem is one of scale. Individually, small businesses are, well, small. They are made up of people working really really hard to pursue their dream and to build a successful business who, by and large, have very little time for anything else. Unless they are living vastly different from the way I am, they also don't have the money and power to remind politicians and reporters about their own value. Enter Wisconsin Business Alliance. Joined together, we, as small businesses, can gain much from our connections to each other, but we can also be a reminder of all the ways that we add up. We. Add. Up. In one of the early meetings, someone said this and it really resonanted with me. To the point where I made a little logo.
It reminds of of one of my all-time favorite Onion articles: American People Hire High-Powered Lobbyist to Push Interests In Congress. I know there are some people who would say the system is the problem, but I tend to go for working both within and outside of the system to enact change. The Wisconsin Business Alliance is one giant step towards having the broader interests of this state, as represented by its many small businesspeople, represented.
And, actually, that is the biggest thing that I gained from the events unfurling after February of last year - from the protests, from the signature collecting, from the connecting with people at our button table. That is an overwhelming sense of our solidarity and the power that we have. Power, together. We (and Wi) Add Up. And we can do great things. You can brush off my little shop as a trivial matter, but a street full of little shops brings money and visitors to the area. You can brush off my little dream as the silly hopes of a girl wanting to make the world more creative, but when you add a bunch of silly girls together, you'd be amazed at how much we can create. You can brush off one shopper, one worker, one person, but when we join together, we can make our voices heard. It might take time, it might seem like the power and money against are insurmountable odds, but when it comes to that kind of thinking, I take refuge in the words of Gene Sharp (author of From Dictatorship to Democracy): "Dictators are never as strong as they think they are. The people are never as weak as they think they are."